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Frontier fort site serves as look into early 1800s
Lake Charles American Press

Fort Jesup served as way station for troops on way to Mexican War

FORT JESUP — While most of Louisiana came into the United States in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase, the western part of the state, including Lake Charles, was part of a disputed area between Spanish Texas and the U.S. known as the “Neutral Ground.”

The area was also known as “No Man’s Land” and the “Sabine Free State.” To prevent bloodshed between U.S. and Spanish troops, in 1806 the two nations signed a treaty making a neutral ground of a 40-mile wide strip between the Sabine River and the Calcasieu River, then called Rio Hondo, which was sup– posed to remain unsettled. The area included the land between Calcasieu Pass on the Gulf of Mexico to Natchitoches to the north.

In reality, the Neutral Ground attracted many lawless elements, including pirates and smugglers, as well as many law-abiding settlers, some of whom came into the area years before the Louisiana Purchase.

The Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819 finally brought Lake Charles into the rest of Louisiana by making the Sabine River western boundary of the state.

To bring law and order to the new part of the state, and guard the border, in 1822 Lt. Col. Zachary Taylor, a future U.S. president, established a military base, originally called Cantonment Jesup and then Fort Jesup, 34 miles north of Leesville in Sabine Parish.

Located on what was then the San Antonio Trace — now La. 6 — the outpost was built up and grew to a peak size of 82 structures and thousands of troops.

One of Fort Jesup’s outposts was Cantonment Atkinson on the banks of Lake Charles, which operated from 1829 to 1832.

During the Texas Revolution in 1836, many American volunteers traveled through western Louisiana to join the fight. In fact, a number of U.S. soldiers from Fort Jesup joined the struggle as well, officially listed as “deserters.”

After Texas joined the U.S. in 1845, the United States and Mexico came to blows in the Mexican War of 1846-48.

That’s when Fort Jesup reached its peak size, with half the entire Army stationed there or moving through it on the way to Texas and Mexico.

After the Army left Fort Jesup for the Texas-Mexico border, the fort no longer was needed and was abandoned in 1846.

But the site wasn’t forgotten. In 1961, it was designated a National Historic Landmark and Louisiana made it a State Historic Site.

The only remaining structure of the 82 is an old kitchen and mess hall, where the enlisted men ate their meals. It stands behind the pillars where one of the enlisted mens’ barracks stood.

The kitchen and mess hall have been restored, with its fireplace and rows of tables and benches where the soldiers dined.

The state has also reconstructed the officers’ quarters, which house the museum displays, gift shop and restrooms.

Fort Jesup provides a glimpse into Antebellum military life in frontier Louisiana, with demonstrations of frontier skills and special events available.

There is a picnic area and walking trail around the grounds of the old fort.

To get to Fort Jesup, from Leesville take U.S. 171 to Many, go east on La. 6, then right on La. 3118 and right on Geoghagan Road to the historic site entrance.

For information, visit www.crt.state.la.us, call 1-888-677-5378 or send an email to fortjesup@crt.state.la.us.

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